Tribeca 2024 Review: It Can Feel Lonely in a Friendship in Joel Potrykus’ Unexpectedly Poignant “Vulcanizadora”

“There’s not going to be a fucking fire,” Martin (Joshua Burge) insists as his longtime pal Derek (Joel Potrykus) is outlining his plan for the camping trip ahead in “Vulcanizadora,” extending what Martin thought might be a day-long excursion into the woods at most into an overnight stay. As Derek is quick to note, Martin is ill-prepared for what’s in store, wearing a pair of pants not suitable for the grind of walking around the forest and carrying little on him, though perhaps that was in anticipation that Derek was packing for the both of them with enough junk food and bottle rockets for nourishment on all fronts to last at least a week and while Derek acts accordingly, going where the winds blows, Martin sulks and wishes he would hurry up, with the distance between them as they walk up and down hills starting to reflect something other than immediate aggravation in Potrykus’ unusually affecting portrait of friendship.

Burge and Potrykus have been as thick as thieves since the latter started making features in 2012 with “Ape” and there surely will be some additional resonance for anyone that’s followed the two from one cinematic transgression to another when the most subversive thing they could make together at this point would be a sincere rumination on mortality and enduring relationships. One knows from the title that they do this on their own terms, or the fact that it’s not long after “Vulcanizadora” begins that their hike is accompanied by industrial metal, but the film may be Potrykus’ most accessible film to date and serves as a great showcase of the storyteller he’s become when the music is there to establish more than their edge, but a backstory when they two can barely engage with one another yet you come to suspect they met in the metal scene where strays have a way of finding each other.

Martin doesn’t only linger well behind Derek on their walk, but it can be gathered in their broader lives as well as little tidbits emerge when Derek rambles nonstop to try to spark a conversation, alluding to a young son (Solo Potrykus) that would be more responsibility than either of them should have. It actually looks like Derek is the far less mature of the two, or at least has a lot less to worry about than Martin does, when the two stop to film some “Jackass”-like stunt involving the bottle rockets, and his recklessness is revealing of something else, adding to why Martin has such anxieties about the camping trip. What happens next shouldn’t be spoiled, but it’s upsetting, unnerving and understandable in equal measure given the kind of bond that Martin and Derek have when their friendship has its own perverse internal logic, and “Vulcanizadora” is both enriched and leavened by the breadcrumbs Potrykus lays throughout, illuminating the dynamic that keeps Martin from completely bailing and adding personality to the journey itself when silly things, such as some skin mags that Derek digs out of a hiding place in the forest, ultimately serve a serious purpose. (Taken at face value, one of the film’s great sight gags is when Derek is so over the trip, he actually appears to be reading one of the magazines for the articles.)

Burge has always been fearless in Potrykus’ wild endeavors, but the vulnerability he displays as Martin, a ne’er do well whose path to the straight and narrow is hardly made easier by his friend, takes this particular collaboration to new places, and once the trip does eventually end and Martin is left to come to terms with what happened on it, “Vulcanizadora” becomes quite moving when only he can appreciate the personal growth he’s shown in dealing with a difficult situation, achieving what society would seem to want from him but ironically only burrowing himself deeper into the outsider status that brought him and Derek together when he has to keep what he’s done to himself. It’s a feeling that probably wasn’t unfamiliar to Potrykus in making “Vulcanizadora,” given how bracingly personal it feels, but the world is better for him sharing it.

“Vulcanizadora” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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